Game Piece in Form of an Ape
Egyptian, Classical, Ancient Near Eastern Art
On View: Egyptian Orientation Gallery, 3rd Floor
An Egyptian invention, faience first appeared about 3500 B.C.E. and was used for a range of objects, including jewelry, amulets, bowls, pots, statuettes, inlays, and gaming pieces.
To make faience, ancient artisans first molded or shaped the raw material—a glassy paste of crushed quartz or sand —and then fired it. Craftsmen glazed faience pieces in three different ways. The simplest and oldest method involved brushing the object with, or immersing it in, liquid glaze before firing. Alternatively, workers mixed a crystalline mineral salt with the faience and allowed it to evaporate to the surface while the object dried. This mineral salt then melted and fused into a glaze during firing. In the third technique, an artisan buried the object in a glazing powder that fused with the core during firing. To decorate faience objects, craftsmen painted on designs before firing or mixed the moist faience paste with mineral colorants.
Unlike faience, glass was a foreign import that arrived in Egypt from western Asia shortly before 1500 B.C.E. The first Egyptian glassmakers relied on molds, limiting production to small objects such as beads and amulets. Later craftsmen perfected techniques that allowed for large, complex pieces.
The Egyptians were fascinated by faience’s bright colors and lustrous finish, and fashioned a wide variety of recreational objects in the material.
The hollow faience ball in this case—too fragile to have been tossed—probably served as a rattle during musical performances or religious rituals. The charming object in the form of an ape was a playing piece in one of the many Egyptian board games.
ca. 1539-1390 B.C.E.
Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund
Archaeological provenance not yet documented; by 1936, acquired by Garrett Chatfield Pier of Connecticut; March 6, 1936, purchased at the Anderson Galleries, New York, NY, “The Garrett Chatfield Pier Collection of Egyptian Antiquities,” lot 68, by the Brooklyn Museum.
Small figure of cynocephalus ape in brilliant blue faience. He is squatting on a low plinth of darker blue and clasps each knee with his hand. Texture of his fur and details of his body are indicated in darker blue.
Condition: perfect but for a few spots where the firing was faulty.
Game Piece in Form of an Ape, ca. 1539-1390 B.C.E. Faience, 1 7/8 x 1 1/8 in. (4.7 x 2.8 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.125. Creative Commons-BY (Photo: , CUR.09.879_36.125_erg456.jpg)
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We are looking at the Game Piece in Form of an Ape and were wondering what ancient Egyptians used to make it so blue?
That piece is very blue because it is glazed faience. Faience itself is white providing an excellent base for the high-fired mineral-based glaze. It was a cheaper alternative to turquoise and lapis-lazuli but gave that beautiful luster.
Technically, faience it is a synthetic compound consisting of ground quartz held together by an alkaline binder. Faience was modeled or pressed into molds and then fired to make amulets, statuettes, and other objects. Faience was usually coated with brightly colored glaze.